After scoring two straight wins inside the octagon, Justin Gaethje’s place among the elite is becoming undeniable.
Now ranked 5th in the UFC’s Lightweight standings, Gaethje most recently knocked out Edson Barboza in the very first round, a career-best win thus far. With that momentum behind him, ‘The Highlight’ is now looking forward though, most specifically towards a potential fight with former double champion Conor McGregor.
“I’m ranked No. 5 right now,” Gaethje told ESPN. “There are four guys and the champion in front of me. I’m looking for one of those guys, and I’m looking for a big fight this summer. I don’t want to fight guys ranked behind me. I’ve got two knockouts in a row. James Vick was ranked behind me. I feel I deserve someone in front of me.
“Looking at the landscape, Conor McGregor is No. 3 right now. If it’s not him, there’s not an open fight right now. So, that’s the fight I want. He’s No. 3. If he’s not going to fight, take him out of the rankings. I’d be cool with that, too, and we can move on from there.”
While Gaethje’s logic is hard to dispute, the likelihood of his suggestion appears to be a whole other issue. McGregor announced his retirement earlier this year but most were unconvinced and as of late, Dana White has pointed to a potential summer return for the Irish superstar. Some reports linked McGregor to a clash with Donald Cerrone but ‘Cowboy’ is now booked to fight Tony Ferguson instead.
Considering that, Gaethje feels as though he’s the perfect opposition for McGregor’s return. However, he’s not certain that McGregor feels the same way. “I don’t know [if he will accept the fight with me]. As far as I’m concerned, he’s in the rankings so he should be available,” he said. “I’m just sitting in my house in Colorado. I have no idea what the hell is going on with him.
“But he’s No. 3. He’s the only guy ranked ahead of me that doesn’t have a fight. He needs a fight to get back to the title shot. I don’t know what else to say about it. Unless he just does not want to fight me, if he wants to be that picky about it. I can’t control that. I’ll worry about things I can control. But I would definitely love to f*ck him up. Every time I get a chance to f*ck someone up who talks a lot of sh*t, it makes it more fun for me.”
Without that fight, Gaethje’s plan to fight up the rankings will be left somewhat stalled. If he’s indeed forced to play the waiting game, Gaethje will be keeping a very close eye on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s likely title bout with Dustin Poirier. “I don’t give Poirier much of a shot,” he said. “Maybe a 16 percent shot. I think Khabib is going to take him down immediately, or create some kind of scramble immediately. I don’t think Poirier stops his takedowns.”
Nonetheless, Gaethje’s focus remains on McGregor. Unmoved by his target’s ongoing negotiations, Gaethje suggests that the UFC keeps things simple. “The UFC needs to handle their business and put him in the cage, so I can f*ck him up.”